Clarifying water protection

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: April 4 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 7 April 2014 | 3:10 pm in

By Karl Brooks

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Protecting Midwestern streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act helps our communities and is vital to our health, safety and quality of life. Local rivers and streams — the Cedar, Iowa and Wapsipinicon rivers, and Indian Creek and Prairie Creek — along with tributaries and nearby wetlands, are important to the Cedar Rapids area’s water quality, recreation, wildlife habitat, and flood abatement.

For the past 15 years, two complex court decisions muddled the law and we lost a clear understanding of which waters are protected, and which aren’t. Working jointly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we’re releasing a proposed rule that clarifies which waters are protected by the law. Our proposal will smooth out wrinkles in the existing law; it does not add to or expand the scope of waters historically protected under the CWA.

The proposed rule does not change exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. We’ve worked closely with the agricultural community to avoid surprises. The rule will not protect any new types of waters that haven’t historically been covered, and it will not regulate groundwater or tile drainage systems or increase regulation of ditches whether they are irrigation or drainage.

EPA has worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make sure we’re addressing farmers’ concerns up front. Farmers and ranchers benefit when healthy wetlands and small streams are able to store floodwaters so that crops and pastures are not damaged or destroyed during floods. They also need reliable water sources and irrigation to grow the crops that feed our nation.

From the Missouri River to the Mississippi, the American waterscape is a defining part of our national identity. In Iowa, we are blessed with a vast network of wetlands and streams that support these rivers: from the Upper Mississippi River Floodplain Wetlands to wet prairies; from oxbow lakes in Iowa to bottomland forests; from small seasonal streams to the Mississippi River. Because of this diversity of water resources, previous interpretations of waters of the U.S. resulted in uncertainty. Clarifying CWA protections will add certainty and clarity to farmers, developers and others.

According to a 2011 survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 38 percent of the U.S. population 16 years and older, fished, hunted or enjoyed wildlife-associated recreation. Hunters, anglers and wildlife recreationists spent $145 billion. Fishing attracted 33 million individuals 16 years and older.

The proposed rule helps clear the way for the CWA to ensure clean, healthy waters. The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days from publication in the Federal Register. Visit http://water.epa.gov/CWAwaters to learn more about our proposal and the CWA.

We’re committed to continuing to listen to everyone who has a stake in this. So I urge you to voice your concerns and lend us your advice. That’s how we’ll get the final rule right.

Karl Brooks of Lawrence, Kan., is administrator for U.S. EPA Region 7 that includes Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and nine tribal nations. Comments: r7actionline@epa.gov

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